November 18, 2014

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Cheated by a Taipei taxi driver


Yesterday for the first time since I moved to Taiwan I was cheated by a taxi driver. He drove me a much longer route, and I noticed it too late, because I was immersed in my phone. When he was close to my neighborhood, he drove through small lanes instead of the main road to extend the ride and charge more. I was in a rush to reach home as fast as possible, so when I realized what he was doing, I was massively pissed off. I could've exploded, but I was afraid that it would escalate and he'd throw me out, so I called my wife instead. She first asked me to put her on the speaker, she wanted to argue, but I was afraid he will pretend dumb, say he didn't understand "the laowai" (which was clearly not the case). Then she advised me to take a photo of his profile which is found at the back of the front seat, and take another photo of the car from outside after I exit. Once he reached close to where I live, I asked him to stop next to an MRT station, I've had enough, and wanted to go out. I usually pay around 170 NTD, but the meter was already at 240 NTD, and I was still 10 min away from home. I didn't care about those 70 NTD I had to pay extra, what pained me the most is the fact that I thought such things don't happen in Taiwan, the image of the honest Taipei cabbie was shattered in my mind in that moment. It was a massive disappointment. After I paid my overcharged fare, I couldn't help but ask (with an angry tone) why he drove all around instead of directly, and as I expected he pretended dumb. I told him my wife will call his company, and left the car. I took a photo from outside, and then hopped on a bus home. Whether this will help to change his behavior the next time he drives a foreigner is highly questionable. I do have to add, though, that I usually have no problems with cabbies. I've taken around 20 cabs in the past 2 months, and this is the only bad case. I hope it stays this way.

October 26, 2014

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How to understand the Taipei Gay Pride Parade

The annual Taipei Gay Pride Parade, one of the biggest in Asia, was held a few days ago, on October 25th to be precise. Taiwan's China Times reported following:

Around 65,000 people yesterday marched toward Ketagalan Boulevard (凱達格蘭大道) as part of the 2014 Taiwan LGBT Pride (2014台灣同志遊行) parade event in celebration of the LGBT population and bringing awareness to the demographic.

Just like every year, not everybody was supportive of the parade:

The Taiwan Family Guardians Alliance (台灣守護家庭大聯盟) yesterday held a press conference while the 2014 LGBT Pride transpired, criticizing the event as immoral with an excessive amount of sexual display. Stating that the openness of the event is no different than public indecency, the alliance went on to publically encourage police authorities to conduct investigations to see if any laws were broken.

My initial reaction

I have not attended the parade this year, because I wasn't in the country, but I actually hoped to. The only time that I did attend was in 2011, and I had mixed feelings about it ever since. I expected a more serious protest for equality, instead it was more like a carnival style post-graduation march. When I saw images of bizzare costumes posted on Facebook by my Taiwanese and foreign friends who attended, I couldn't help but write following comment on my Facebook page today:

PBS: Same-sex marriage now recognized in six additional US states. Meanwhile in ‪Taiwan‬ it seems that it's all about parading half naked in silly costumes.

When I see images like this one (further below), I wonder what does dressing up that way contribute to the advancement of ‪LGBT‬ rights? What is the message you want to convey to society? If you're using the parade to show off your fetish, then I think you're harming the movement, it's not the right venue for that. As a strong supporter of LGBT rights, it saddens me every year to see how shallow the parade in ‪Taipei‬ has become. Wasn't one of the key arguments that we're all the same regardless of our sexual orientation? Where did that message disappear?

Check out how it looked like in 2004. That year only 4,000 people marched through Taipei pleading for equality and tolerance, this year some people thought they should highlight their genitals.

Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe I just fail to see the connection between dressing up like Hannibal Lecter and fighting for LGBT equality, maybe someone can enlighten me on this, and on the logic behind the 2014 Taiwan Pride Parade.

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What followed was a long stream of diverse comments by gay and straight followers, which helped me to get a better understanding of what the parade actually symbolizes, and how these unusual costumes should be understood. I'm not an expert on gay rights, nor am I very familiar with the gay community in Taiwan, my reaction to these images was instantaneous and emotional. I could not comprehend the logic behind it. And based on the comments by my Facebook friends, I was not the only one. But when I've read some of my followers' comments and explanations, I really started to see things differently. In order to offer a similar experience to those parade skeptics among my blog readers, I decided to republish the best comments.

Understanding the Taipei Gay Pride Parade

The comment that gave me the most to think about my own understanding and perceptions was made by one of my followers I like the most. Here an excerpt of the main part:

Personally I think it is very positive and even remarkable that in Taiwan people feel comfortable enough to be themselves, however they may identify, at the annual pride celebration. The fetish wear you are wagging your finger at is part of queer culture and to bring it all out into the open is part of what the event is all about. You mentioned an argument that "we're all the same regardless of our sexual orientation" but I don't think this is quite true... rather we are -not- all the same regardless of sexual orientation but we're all human and deserve the same basic rights. Finally, I get the sense that you're making an argument from political pragmatism, namely that you support gay rights but feel like the optics on this particular subject are bad... well, maybe, but history is filled with queer people who tried to hide their identities and were discriminated against or slain regardless.

Eric H. was the first one to actually answer my plead for a better understanding. Here is what he said:

I don't think there's anything wrong with what goes on at Pride. I tend to think of it as a parade rather than a march of human rights, and since it's merely a parade, I don't think what happens needs to have a direct effect on advancing gay rights. Like you said, it's just a carnival and there are other LGBT events organized specifically to advance gay rights. And from what I can tell, they way people act and the way the events are presented are quite different than Pride. These events just don't get as much publicity as Pride does. [Link 1][Link 2]

I hate when people (who are LGBT or not) say that certain people within the LGBT community are "harming the movement". Many straight-acting gays say that of more effeminate gays and it's a ridiculous statement to make. Just because certain people (or their costumes) aren't pleasing to the mainstream eye doesn't mean they shouldn't be celebrated in public as part of the parade, because whether we like it or not, they are part of the community.

David R., veteran Taiwan blogger, looked at the bigger picture, his comment struck a nerve with me as well:

It is important to understand the context that these marches take place in. In many parts of the world people face arrest, assault or even worse simply for publicly revealing their sexual orientation. In many countries any kind of LGBT rights march or parade is held in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. It would have been no different when the first march was held in Taiwan back in 2003. Thankfully Taiwan's society has become more accepting and open in the past couple of decades. It is a positive sign that Taiwan can hold such a large parade in a peaceful and happy way.

Also saying "we're all the same" misses a key point. We are all humans equally deserving of rights and dignity. However, the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. We can also celebrate our diversity and events like Taiwan Pride are a chance to do this.

Josh E. was on topic as well, and explained the way he sees the parade:

I think the point is to highlight the diversity of the LBGT community. They show their pride by marching on the streets doing things that may seem out of the ordinary to some - but that's the point. The atmosphere of pride should be like Mardi Gras or Carnival. They exhibit that they're proud to be LBGT and they want people who are afraid to come out to be able to feel the same way without a fear of persecution and exclusion from their friends and family.

Of course there are always some who may seem to take it too far at any pride parade and the media focuses on them alone. Which is where I see the problem and ultimately the necessity of continuing pride parades - the media focuses on the 'shocking' aspects of the parade and people who don't really understand or are biased against the community pick up on that and criticize it while completely forgetting that the overall message of pride is equality and love.

And to finish off the conversation, I'd like to highlight a comment by Jing-Yuan C., who says he's part of the community and attending for several years. Here's what he had to say:

As a gay and participant in the parade for 5 straight years, I see what you're getting at. I have to say yes the host are not "effect-oriented", since what you said is true, all the nudity is going to outshine the core equality issue on the media coverage. No progress of equality will be seen immediately. But by insisting on showing off the body and expressing the different sexual preference and orientation, we hope to familiarize outsiders that LGBT community is more tolerant for everything and that's the attitude we wish the other people have toward us. I wish I can say the discrimination will go away if we stop pounding each other's asses or stop sucking each other's d***s, but it's not, the hater will hate us simply because we like to have sex with the same gender. The discrimination we're suffering results from the orientation itself and the sex behind it, anal sex, fetish, BDSM, etc. which means to tackle the inequality you have to tackle the sex factor as well. To do that we have to make ppl not afraid of sexual impression, the basic manifesto is nudity. And yah, we provoke some prudish and fundies, but just like we fight in the court for a legal marriage, we hope this "rub on your face" measure will give those people a quick understanding that normal sex is not the only dominant intercourse in this world and everyone has right to express themselves in his or her most comfortable way, just like being sissy and dike.

Thank you all for the respectful discussion, and for a new perspective.

Further links:

Taiwanreporter's video of the 2014 parade
Taiwanese activists urge for legalization of gay marriage
Humans of Taipei: Gay Parade 2014

October 25, 2014

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Taiwanese working in China may secure KMT victory in Taipei mayoral race

One has to have very strong guts to read all the way to the end of this shabby piece in the Want China Times, that sounds more like a campaign staffer mobilizing voters instead of a journalistic work. It's not hard to guess that this has upset me quite a bit. Since I'm good with numbers and statistics, let me simplify it for you: So according to Want China Times up to 4.9% of potential voters in the Taipei mayoral election live and work in China, which equals to around 70,000 people, and if we are to believe these numbers, then the total sum of voters in Taipei should be 1,428,571). 70% of Taiwanese working in China are believed to be KMT supporters, which would equal to around 49,000 potential voters for Lien. The article further claims that if they would've returned to Taiwan just to vote for someone, who's biggest achievement is being the son of the former chairman of the unpopular ruling party, he may secure a victory. On a first glance that seems to be less likely then sighting a yeti on Alishan, but in order to be fair, I decided to analyze these numbers published by the Want China Times.

Let's add more stats into the mix

An article in Focus Taiwan reports that an opinion poll conducted by the pro-Lien United Daily News from 4 days ago made following claims (my summary):

"Ko Wen-je would beat Sean Lien of the Kuomintang by a margin of 13 percentage points if the Taipei mayoral election were to be held now. 42 percent of Taipei City's voters favored Ko, compared with 29 percent favoring Lien. 26 percent of those surveyed remained undecided or would not reveal their preference, and the remaining 3 percent backed the five other candidates registered in the race."

The voter turnout in the 2010 Taipei Mayoral election was 70.65% (1,433,736 voters in total), which confirms Want China Time's number. Let's get to the analysis.

Now let the numbers do the magic

I want to answer following question: Based on the numbers that have been thrown around in the article, what would it take for Sean Lien to win this race?

Below is my calculation based on the assumption that:

- Expected number of total voters will be 1,428,571
- 70,000 voters work in China, all Lien supporters will come back to Taipei to vote
- The recent UDN poll of voters in Taiwan is accurate

I have also set most other assumptions in favor of Lien to show how difficult he will have it to secure victory. Let me stress that these numbers are speculative, they may highlight a certain trend and challenge, but they should not be understood literally.

The calculation



The most difficult thing here was to figure out how many of the undecideds will not vote for Lien or Ko, but for other less known candidates. I have put it at 3.87% (same as in the current poll, if we just focus on decided voters), assuming that the ratio will be preserved, but this is purely speculative, and chosen to give Lien favorable numbers.



The conclusion

Ko and Lien are basically competing for a pool of 339,574 undecided voters, and Lien needs to take 68.8% of these votes (or 233,595). He has to grow his current support 52.7% until November 29th. Achieving all this is not impossible, but it will surely be difficult, because everything points into the opposite direction right now. And my assumption is based on the fact that all Kuomintang supporters who work in China come back and vote for him, which is 49,000 people. If we take (based on these numbers) that an average round trip from a Chinese city to Taipei costs 200 USD, the cost of bringing all these people to Taipei to vote would be 9,8 million USD. I'm pretty sure that this money is peanuts for the Lien clan, but the logistics behind getting all of them here to vote will be a bigger challenge. And one thing is sure: They will not be the deciding factor. Lien needs to primarily focus on energizing people who actually live in Taipei, because they are the ones that are mostly unimpressed with him. It just doesn't look good for him regardless how we spin the numbers. I would not bet on Lien this year.

Sean Lien's got 99 problems but money ain't one.

October 10, 2014

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The "Taipei Moon Bridge" viral photo demystified

I want to highlight two phenomena today, that always occur when Taiwan tops some random list on an English language website. The first thing that usually happens is Taiwanese media picks it up, translates it into Chinese, and the stuff gets viral in Taiwan, usually on social media first, and later also on TV. Then Taiwanese netizens go to that site and start to comment, often also in Chinese. That's partly because Taiwanese are generally lacking recognition in the world due to the tricky international standing, and the obstructions by the neighboring bully China, so there is a yearning to be recognized and appreciated as a nation, especially with the younger generation. And the second thing I want to highlight is how often stuff about Taiwan gets viral, that may not accurately reflect the reality of the country, because people abroad simply don't know Taiwan that well, but they do have some wrong ideas. Usually it's some obscure random stuff with little substance labeled under "whacky East Asia", which leads to further cliches about Taiwan (and that's a topic for a completely new post).

Apple Daily usually starts it

Screen grab from Apple Daily. Their FB post generated over 16,000 likes by now.

So this is what happened today: Taiwan's number one tabloid Apple Daily reposted and translated parts of a user generated post on Bored Panda titled "20+ Mystical Bridges That Will Take You To Another World", because an image of an arch bridge in Taipei's Neihu District landed on the list. The linked post on their Facebook page reached a massive virality by now (over 16,000 likes, and over 800 reshares), which must have caused huge traffic spikes on Bored Panda. Taiwanese netizens have been upvoting this image for a while now, so it became "no 1 mystical bridge in the world" on that list (when I checked it earlier today, it was second). That's not really something to be proud of, to be honest.

Sorry, but the Taipei Moon Bridge is not mystical

The Taipei Moon Bridge (encircled in red) is by now the most popular mystical bridge on that list. See the image in full scale.

The funny thing is, that this seemingly mystical image already went viral 2 years ago, when the British tabloid The Daily Mail and some other European tabloids reposted some of these images (which were taken from a Taiwanese photographer's Flickr photo set), and wrote following fluff:

Morning mist hangs in the calm, still air adding to the dream-like magic of this tranquil setting in Taiwan. The crystal clear water allows for a perfect reflection of an upside down world, almost playing tricks on the mind. With scenery like this, it is no wonder that Taiwan was formerly known as the Beautiful Island - Ilha Formosa - to the West.

After I read this article two years ago, I decided to pay Neihu a visit with my DLSR, and see the Moon Bridge with my own eyes. While the bridge and the surrounding lake are quite pleasant, it doesn't feel as mystical as the images would let you believe. That's because they were photoshopped (the "playing tricks on the mind" part was correct). Those who live in Taiwan would know, that there is usually no morning mist in Taipei when the sun is up that high. It must have been at least 10-11 AM when the viral photo was taken, which means it can should've been really hot already, any kind of early morning mist would've evaporated long time ago. Don't misunderstand me, I love the image, and the Photoshop effect is awesome, but unfortunately people outside Taiwan believe this photo represents an authentic reality. It does not. Here's how the Moon Bridge looks like on my photos when I visited Neihu in May 2012:

A view from afar.

The Taipei Moon Bridge.

A side view.

The Taipei MRT brown line to Nangang is passing by here.

The bridge is not always easy to see. Can you spot it?

The Dahu Park is really nice, though.

This is a residential neighborhood behind the lake.

History of the Taipei Moon Bridge

Taipei's Moon Bridge, as it's named in English by the local government, is called 錦帶橋 in Chinese, which is actually the name of a famous wooden arch bridge in Iwakuni, Japan - the Kintai Bridge. That bridge dates back to 1673, and is considered one of Japan's national treasures (source). The design of the Taipei Moon Bridge however looks very similar to a lot of arch bridges (拱橋) found in China, most notably the Jade Belt Bridge 玉帶橋 at the Summer Palace in Beijing, that dates back to 1736 (source). The Dahu Park as it looks like today was built between 1979 and 1983, and was designed as a classical Chinese garden (source). So to sum everything up: The photoshopped Moon Bridge is actually not older than 25 years. It has the same name as a famous old bridge in Japan, and the same design as a famous old bridge in China. I think Sanxiantai would be a better choice for the list.

Kintai bridge.jpg
"Kintai bridge" by pastaitaken. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Gaoliang Bridge.JPG
"Jade Belt Bridge". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
A side shot of the Taipei Moon Bridge for comparison.

October 9, 2014

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The Kuomintang PSY

As it turns out, the Kuomintang, Taiwan's current ruling party, has a candidate competing in local elections for the city council in Zhonghe District named Chiu Feng-yao (邱烽堯), that looks a little bit like the Korean singing sensation PSY. While the similarity seems to be coincidental, his campaign is definitely trying to take advantage of it. The top down slogan in red says: "打造快樂新北市" ("Develop happy New Taipei City"). The slogan in the blue bubble next to the PSY caricature says: "一起跳躍" ("Let's jump together").

"Zhonghe style" is not quite like "Gangnam Style".

It's unclear at this point what Chiu's policies of "jumping together" and "developing happy New Taipei City mean", but if we judge it by the policies of his father Chiu Chui-yi (邱垂益), the current mayor of Zhonghe, then there's not much to look forward to. Zhonghe is one of the noisiest, most crowded, and most polluted parts of Greater Taipei, and probably all of Taiwan. Apart from a few new metro stations, and lots of new high-rise apartment blocks randomly shooting out everywhere (with most apartments being empty), nothing much has changed in recent years. Zhonghe is usually voting Kuomintang, there are a lot of old party loyal soldier communities found all over the district. There is no such thing as "Yes We Can!" in Zhonghe, people vote for continuity, and that's why it looks the way it does.

PSY is not amused

I reached out to PSY via phone call, and he told me "he was not amused" after I mailed him the controversial image. He further stated "that his globally recognized caricature was misused for political means by the Kuomintang", and that "he has never worn a T-shirt with Kuomintang party logo", and that the popular chatting app LINE "paid thousands of Wons" for the stickers with his image, so they "will not let Mr. Chiu's campaign team get away without paying royalties, possibly worth thousands of Wons" unless the banner is retracted, and an official apology is aired on Korean national TV by Mr. Chiu's father. He also said that "he supported Mr. Ma's peace initiative in the South China Sea", and that "he was tolerant of various lifestyles". I was not able to get a response from Mr. Chiu, or his campaign staff, but you can send him an email here for further clarifications.

"Why did the Kuomintang not pay any royalties for using my star allure and the LINE sticker!" the real PSY replied while waiting for the official apology.